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How to fire up your team's communication skills

Plan an effective training strategy in 3 easy steps

When it comes to upskilling your team, it is tempting to take the ‘tick box’ approach. In other words, you consider the kind of training that will ‘do them good’ – a bit of leadership training here, a bit of digital training there – set up a program and then tick the box that it’s done. All too often, however, this strategy fails because it does not consider the actual needs of the team. It’s a top-down approach when it should be bottom-up. This is especially true when you want to boost your team’s communication skills. So, what’s the best approach to making sure the communication skills training has some impact? I have delivered communication skills training for lots of companies over the years, and the most successful have one thing in common. They ask their teams what they need and then we tailor the program to suit. However, it’s a bit more complex than that. Let’s look at three steps you can take to build your team's communication skills in a way that will have a powerful effect on their performance. 1. List the specific communication skills that apply to your business Yes, it’s important to prioritise the needs of your employees but these must align with the needs of the business, too. The type of business you are in will influence the kind of communication skills your staff should employ. For example, if you are an auditing firm, your people should be able to communicate clearly and concisely in a way that clients can understand, above all else. If you’re in the business of sales, then it’s crucial to understand how to use language persuasively. You can also consider the type of skills needed by specific teams. Those who spend a lot of time communicating via email, for instance, would benefit most from a writing program. Salespeople who spend a lot of time on the phone or in face-to-face meetings will need to focus on improving their verbal communication skills. 2. Ask your team members what they would like to improve Your team will be more motivated to upskill if they can see the tangible benefits of training. They’ll often have far more knowledge of their own strengths and weakness than their managers, so it’s good to give them some ownership of the training planning process. Ask them to identify the specific areas they want to improve, perhaps in the form of a questionnaire. The problem with communication skills, however, is that they are subjective and difficult to define for many. Provide a list of skills you identified as a business need and ask your team members to prioritise the ones they want help with. You can also ask them to add other skills they wish to develop for now and the future, such as presentation skills, speech writing and so on. 3. Plan and book a training program based on the alignment of needs Once you have all the information from steps 1 and 2, you can determine which skills training you should prioritise. That’s the easy bit. You then put together training programs that target the most prevalent areas of skills development. For example, people might want to improve their writing skills and be more persuasive. So ‘persuasive writing’ could be one program. Others might want to articulate their messaging more clearly when they speak in meetings. In this case, put together a program that teaches them all about clear messaging but make it relevant by placing the learning in the context of a meeting. The more specific you can be, the more powerful the training program. Just a word of warning here. All this advice relates to tailoring your programs to your audience (i.e., your team). You should do this in collaboration with your training team or external provider. Avoid off-the-shelf offerings as they can be hit-and-miss and run the risk of disengaging participants. People will naturally be more engaged if they can see the training has relevance to their work and will genuinely help them develop. You should also consider the skill level of individuals. Those who already possess strong communication skills will need to be challenged with a sophisticated program. Those whose skills level is less developed will need something more accessible. Ticking boxes may be satisfying for your KPIs. But, ultimately, a more methodical approach to communication skills training will pay dividends in the long run. If your company needs help with any aspect of its communication skills training program, get in touch with Voxtree to discuss the options.

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